Thursday, May 26, 2011
The Supreme Court
In our country the creation of a constitutional court came about almost by accident. The members of the convention of 1787 who drew up the federal constitution did not see enforcing the constitution as a role of the Supreme Court. Instead, they believed, the enforcer would be the President who would have the power to veto laws passed by Congress if they were unconstitutional. The requirement that enforcing the constitution should be done by a body not subject to political pressures was demonstrated by the first Chief Justice, John Marshal. The case which asserted and established the Court's power to enforce the constitution is known as "Marbury vs. Madison."
As Shakespeare wrote, the evil that men do lives after them. The good is often buried with their bones. One can say the same about our Supreme Court. Most of the decisions have been good ones and no one talks about them. What we remember and talk about have been some of the bad ones. Here are a few bad ones:
- Dred Scott: In 1857 the court ruled that a negro slave did not have the right to sue his master in court to obtain his freedon. You may recall that Dred Scott's master had traveled from a slave state through one or more states in which slavery was illegal, then back to the slave state. Dred Scott brought suit, claiming that he had been freed by the process of traveling into a "free" state. The Supreme Court ruled that the owner of a slave had the right to retain ownership regardless of where he might take the slave. The northern "free" states were outraged by the decision, and civil war was the result.
- In 1886, in the case "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad," the Court asserted that a corporation was a "person" at law. It was entitled under the 14th Amendment to the same legal protections as those afforded to human persons. Officers of the corporation were immune from lawsuits resulting from acts of the corporation. The corporation itself could be sued for damages but not the officers. That affirmed an important difference between a corporation and a partnership. At the time one judge mused that a corporation was a strange kind of "person." It didn't have an ass to be kicked or a soul to be damned. More than a century later the Court asserted that since a corporation was a "person" it had a first amendment right to contribute money without limit to a political candidate. Many of us are outraged by that decision. There is a plan to amend the constitution to make it clear that the "personhood" of corporations is limited to civil suits and does not grant a right to make campaign contributions or, heaven forbid, be elected to public office. What would you think of President General Electric?
- About 1941 or 1942 the Court decided that the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry was constitutional. It has recently been reported that a report by the US Navy stated that these citizens were no danger to the country and there was no evidence that they would not be loyal to the United States in the war with Japan. That report was suppressed by an official in Roosevelt's State Department.
- In 1896 or thereabouts the Court decided that "separate but equal" accommodations for the descendants of former negro slaves were constitutional. Segregated schools, segregated eating facilities, segregated transportation facilities, etc., were allowable. This decision was reversed nearly 60 years later in the famous school desegregation case by the Warren Court.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
President Barack Obama has lost at least one ally for his views on the Mideast. In a speech Monday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected Obama’s own talk last week in which he called for Israel to negotiate peace with the Palestinians using pre-1967 borders as a baseline, Politico reports.With friends and allies like Harry Reid, Mr. Obama has no need for enemies.
“The place where negotiating will happen must be at the negotiating table — and nowhere else,” Reid told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Those negotiations . . . will not happen — and their terms will not be set — through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media.”
As for the borders issue, “No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building, or about anything else,” he said.
As you know, I applauded Mr. Obama's speech in my previous post. I don't agree with Harry Reid's analysis. If I thought that the Likud Government in Israel really wanted a peace settlement with an independent Palestine, I might give some thought to Mr. Reid's prescription. After many years of making excuses, the Likud Party has convinced me that it really doesn't want peace. It wants all of Biblical Israel. It wants the Palestinians to go away, to disappear, to move to other Arab-speaking countries, or to die off. I sense that Mr. Obama thinks as I do and for that reason he is trying to lay down the law to Mr. Netanyahu. The United States will support an Israel that agrees to live within the 1967 borders and will support any modification of that boundary that both Israel and the Palestinians agree to. The United States will not support Israel's continuing policy of delay and obfuscation while continuing to build more and more settlements in land that ought to belong to Palestine. This is what I think American policy should be.
As to Mr. Reid's echoing Mr. Netanyahu's "conditions" for peace negotiations, in which everything is on the table and there are no preconditions - except that the Palestinians agree and state publicly that Israel has a right to exist - I think that the first thing to agree on must be the boundaries between the two states. If Israel and Palestine can't or won't agree on boundaries, there is no point to proceeding further.
A final comment: does the government of Israel believe that Palestine has a right to exist?
Friday, May 20, 2011
The President's Speech
- There shall be two independent but friendly nations, Israel and Palestine.
- The borders between these nations shall be either the boundary that existed in 1969 or an agreed to modification of that boundary.
- Other outstanding differences, such as the right of Palestinians to return to their lost homes, are left open with no preconditions.
To me, it's like Alice in Wonderland. Does the government of Israel really want a peaceful settlement based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on part of the territory of pre-war Palestine or pre-Roman Israel? Mr. Netanyahu talks of wanting peace. When it is suggested that Israel ought to be able to make some useful concessions in a serious negotiation, he changes the subject to the question of security and his doubt that the Palestinians really want peace. His first requirement is that the Palestinian negotiators formally recognize "Israel's right to exist." But that requirement involves circular reasoning. A right to exist is properly contained in or implied by a peace treaty or a formal exchange of ambassadors. It's the end of a process, not a beginning.
I am honestly suspicious of Mr. Netanyahu. I don't think he is sincere in wanting peace with a rump Palestine. I think he wants the Palestinians to go away, to disappear, to migrate to other Arab countries, and leave all of Biblical Israel to the present state of Israel for occupation and colonization by Jewish immigrants. He regards the Palestinians as interlopers who are occupying land that properly belongs to the Jewish People, as the gift of God to the followers of Moses. These interlopers must be moved out or killed off, just as other interlopers were dealt with in ancient times.
I applaud President Obama's speech. I believe that most Americans will applaud it. I hope that it receives a favorable audience in Israel among people there who do not blindly approve of everything the present Likud government is doing.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Los Angeles may close some Fire Stations
I am wryly amused to see the reactions of many of my liberal Democratic friends. They are outraged that some fire stations are going to be closed. They are outraged that some teachers are going to be let go, although it isn't the city but rather the Board of Education that is the target of their wrath. Their plan is to have big demonstrations in favor of keeping fire houses open, keeping the police staffed, keeping libraries open, keeping hospitals and emergency rooms operating, etc., etc., etc.
It's much too late for demonstrations. The city doesn't take in enough revenue to pay for all the firehouses, policemen, libraries, hospitals, and tree-trimmers that city dwellers demand. We Californians voted ourselves into this mess during Jerry Brown's first two terms as Governor. We deliberately created a revenue deficit for local governments, otherwise known as Proposition 13. In addition to limiting future increases in property taxes this proposition made it nearly impossible for either the State or the City or the County to raise general revenue taxes. State taxes could thenceforth be increased only by a 2/3 vote in both Houses of the State Legislature. Local taxes could be raised only by a 2/3 vote of the public. An exception was made for "special purpose" taxes, such as an increase in the sales tax to pay for improved public transit.
Fire houses are going to be closed and we Californians are getting what we deserve. Instead of demonstrating for fire houses we should dress up in "sackcloth and ashes" to express our collective guilt and shame.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The scam that nearly worked
Looking back I realize that I should have thanked him and told him I would look after it, got back in my car, rolled up the windows, and locked the doors. I should have told him I would phone for a tow truck to take the car to a mechanic I knew and trusted. I didn't do any of that.
I'm not at all proud of what I did next. I listened to him. He pointed to the woman and babies in the back of his car. He was a mechanic who was trying to do an occasional job for himself, not for the boss. He told me to beware of most mechanics because they will install shoddy equipment in your car and thereby void the warranty. He wondered whether I had received a recall letter recently from the Toyota Company about my 2000 Avalon. He assured me he wasn't trying to steal my car. He would have a tow truck take my car to his boss's shop at no expense. I wanted the car towed to my own mechanic. He said that if I didn't like his estimate of the repair cost he would have the tow truck take the car to my own mechanic.
Eventually (and this is the part of the story that I'm most ashamed to admit) I let him take my car keys and drive me to my house. He gave me his phone number and said he would perform some diagnostic tests on the car to find out what was wrong and the tests would take an hour or two.
At home I had time to cool off, relax, become calm, and think clearly. I talked to my daughter by telephone. She told me to find where the car is and to report the whole matter to the police.
I eventually, after phoning 911 and waiting to be switched to several police stations, was able to talk to a duty officer at the Topanga Station in my area. The officer said that I should talk to the man again before calling in the police. He might be legitimate. If so, he would sue me for bringing the police down on him.
Eventually the man answered his phone. He would come and get me in about half an hour. My other daughter phoned me and warned me against getting into a car with the man. I got a friend to drive me to the location. I phoned him again and told him I didn't need his transportation and was bringing a friend. I also asked him where the car was.
He said the car was at an address on Ventura Boulevard. He implied it was in a shop and begged me not to come into the shop lest the boss find out what he was doing and fire him.
My friend arrived and we proceeded to the address. The "shop" was a large building that had nothing to do with auto repairs. We parked just beyond the building. The man came from the parking area behind the building and led us to the car. He said that he had already made the needed repairs. I told him I had not authorized him to work on the car, but just provide an estimate. He didn't tell me how much the "repairs" cost. Instead he opened the trunk of my car and showed me several dirty pieces of hardware that might have come from some auto or truck. There were two long tubular structures that might have been shock absorbers. I knew that none of them had come from my car. None of them had the remotest connection to a hydraulic fluid leak. He wouldn't have had time to replace such parts during the two hours that he'd had the car, especially without a lift so that he could get under it to do the work. I told him I had no interest in the parts and told him to remove them from the car.
The woman was with him. She said she was his sister. She said I ought to pay something because her brother had saved my life by warm\ning me of the brake problem. I said that since I hadn't authorized any repairs I wasn't obligated to pay them. By now I had the car keys. He kept talking about his children, that he was just trying to make a living, etc. I finally told him about a woman who had accosted me a week or two earlier in another parking lot with a story about losing her credit card and having no money and would I give her something to buy groceries, or perhaps buy groceries for her? I had given her twenty dollars and I offered the same to him.
He refused my twenty dollars and showed me a big wad of bills to prove that he had some money. He became angry and threatened to have a lien placed on the car. I told him I would take my chances and my friend and I drove off in our two cars. We drove to my regular auto mechanic with no problem. The brakes worked as good as ever. I left the car with my mechanic for its scheduled servicing and told him the whole story. I told him to inspect the care\to make sure that there was nothing new that had been installed.
It's a long story that I'm not proud of. I tell it to warn others not to be taken in by an auto repair scam.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Refusing to Learn
Several things were tried in 1929 to 1939. At first the federal government did nothing. President Hoover took the advice of his Treasury Secretary to let all the poison in the stock market burn itself out. That is, let the last buyers of inflated stock shares eat their losses. Doing nothing didn't work. The big losers simply shared their losses with everyone else and millions of workers were without jobs and without income. The next President took the advice of an economist and spent government money to create jobs. Enough of the unemployed workers found temporary work and were able to buy things so that the economy began to recover. The government had to go into debt to raise the money to provide the jobs. After a while the economy recovered and there was enough revenue to begin paying down the debt.
We are again in a recession or depression caused by the ability of the Wall Street gamblers to make us all share their losses. You would think that, having gone through the Great Depression of 1929-1939 our leaders and our more responsible politicians would draw on the experience of those years to frame policies for the present. For some reason nearly all of them choose to ignore or to forget the failures and successes of that time seventy-five years ago. Instead of using borrowed money to create temporary jobs, our leaders talk about reducing the deficit. We seem doomed to follow the path of Herbert Hoover rather than that of Franklin Roosevelt.